No Liability If Risk Of Injury Not Foreseeable

Mathew Bailey Watson operated a motorized forklift known as an "order picker" to pick product orders from shelves in the Georgia warehouse of Applied Industrial Technologies. At the end of his shift, Watson would ride on the platform of the order picker and pick up trash containers — open 30-gallon to 40-gallon plastic barrels.

At some point during Watson's employment, General Mechanical Services Inc. was hired to make repairs on Applied Industrial's conveyor system. One day when Watson was picking up the trash from his moving order picker, he leaned over to pick up a trash barrel with one hand. The barrel, which had been marked for paper and plastic disposal, was filled with heavy metal conveyor parts weighing 80 lb to 100 lb. Watson injured his back trying to lift it.

He obtained workers'-comp benefits from his employer and filed a lawsuit against General Mechanical for damages, charging the company with negligence in discarding heavy metal parts in the barrel marked for paper and plastic.

General Mechanical asked the Georgia trial court to grant summary judgment for it before trial, asserting that, even if its employees put metal parts in the trash can, they had no reason to foresee the harm caused to Watson. The court agreed.

On appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeal noted that depositions from Applied Industrial employees indicated that order pickers were trained not to use an order picker to pick up trash cans, as Watson had done. The court stated that Watson was operating the order picker in an unsafe manner when he was injured. While the court agreed that the employees of General Mechanical had a duty to not subject Watson to an unreasonable risk, it said, "Under the present facts, we conclude as a matter of law that the act of putting metal parts in the trash container marked for paper and plastic was not actionable negligence because it was not foreseeable that doing so would create an unreasonable risk of some type of physical injury."

Watson v. General Mechanical Services Inc., 623 S.E.2d 679 (Ga. App. 2005), Court of Appeals of Georgia, Nov. 18, 2005.
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